12 September 2018

Book Review on Better Times: Something Magic

Something Magic: The Baltimore Orioles, 1979-1983 is a fairly straight forward accounting of the last hurrah of the original Orioles dynasty that lasted about 20 years.  The book largely depends on several hundred articles written at the time to piece together the more meaningful aspects leading up to that final run and throughout it.  For those who lived through these events, I would imagine that this work will unleash a flood of great memories.  For those like me born during this run or much later, it is a sober account of what transpired during a more jubilant time of baseball in Baltimore.

Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this work is that the first 78 pages describe the path that baseball took in Baltimore from 1858 to the threshold of the 1979 season.  It covers a lot of ground that I had picked up in other books.  Bill Veeck's tenure with the St. Louis Browns and being squeezed out in the sale of the franchise to Baltimore is covered here though not in the excruciating detail you get on the books whose focal point in Veeck and not providing background for the Orioles.

Likewise, the book draws from the Wizard of Waxahachie and a couple other sources to discuss Paul Richards.  Similar to Veeck, the book presents a more positive and less nuanced few of Richards when describing how the Oriole Way is the Richards Way.  For instance, while it notes how much of a tinkerer Richards was and how he was interested in streamlining/standardizing instruction, it fails to mention how his success in finding players largely had to do with having money to buy them because he was actually a fairly
poor evaluator.  He just used a great system.  That said, it probably is outside the scope of this work.

I may have missed it in the citations, but the work also appears to miss the work recently done on Brooks Robinson in the Brooks autobiography that was recently released.  That work would fill in some gaps in the discussion running up through the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  While that book is fairly white bread, it does seem to give the impression that Something Magic perhaps leans on period print articles a bit too much as being completely accurate depictions.

One element that comes up again and again are the depictions of fan programs being used as evidence to show that there was something special about Baltimore.  It is said, but not compared with what was going on around the league.  Therefore, it reads more like public relation work that would appear in newspapers and opinion pieces.  Maybe I am being too harsh, but it seems like a more critical eye and perhaps more first hand interviews could have contextualized these events more.

The final hundred or so pages describes the run noted in the title.  The writing meanders with the ebb and flow of seasonal sports writing.  Spring optimism gets grinded through the season and tid bits of information sprinkle through.  Again, I think for those who lived through the era it would be a great memory jogger as it discusses work stoppages, Jim Palmer acting on television shows, negotiations for what would become Camden Yards, failed attempts to sign Reggie Jackson and trade for Gary Templeton, and the pondering of who could actually replace Earl Weaver.

Perhaps with a longer format, these interesting tidbits could be expanded and something more interesting or profound could be elucidated.  As is, much of the information comes off in tangents off of the main slog which is a very newsprint push forward of this time.

The final chapter brings everything up to the present day.  Highlighting some aspects and quiet on others.  All in all, the book does well to set the tone for this five year period and wind down from it.  Where it fits in the works about the Orioles, I do not know.  I think for a more recent Orioles fan, it teases you with a great number of tidbits that leave you wanting more and, perhaps, searching out books mentioned in the citations and beyond.


Something Magic: The Baltimore Orioles, 1979-1983
by Charles Kupfer
McFarland and Company, Inc.
212 pp.

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